The floor of the New York Stock Exchange has been pretty quiet for years now, most of the trades having moved onto servers in New Jersey.
If you want real pit action, you need not travel very far: One block up Broad Street each Monday, the floor of the Bitcoin Center NYC comes alive with the shouts of traders exchanging Bitcoin.
They call it “Satoshi Square,” after the digital currency’s pseudonymous founder. In-person Bitcoin trading began in Union Square this past summer, and has now moved to the center for the winter. Yesterday was the third week in a row that the Center, founded last month by real estate developer and Bitcoin enthusiast Nick Spanos, has hosted it.
Last night, about 100 people showed up, though fewer than a quarter actually went into the pit. Orders are taken in millibits, or thousandths of a Bitcoin. With the average Bitcoin price at a little more than $US800, it’s not very much. But the intensity is palpable. Here’s a taste:
Obviously, the market is unregulated. But no one is taking commissions, and all of the trading is proprietary, something the Treasury Department just ruled does not fall under their statutes.
Once orders were taken and closed, they were settled through Bitcoin wallets accessible on the traders’ smart phones. It’s relatively simple: the parties swap their public keys — basically, routing numbers — and transmit the agreed-upon amount changing hands.
Mark Anthony is a former Amex Exchange cotton trader whose interest in technology led him to Bitcoin. He wore his old pit jacket to the floor:
Anthony said the open-outcry market remains in its infancy, but that it had certain advantages over electronic Bitcoin exchanges. “If you went to [an electronic market], you’d have to leave your money there, maybe you’d get it out, and it could get stuck in Mt. gox,” he said. “Here, anyone in New York City who wants to buy some Bitcoin will learn this is a good place to put it.”
Michael Robinson, a 50-something New Yorker who declined to tell us his daytime profession, said he made more than $US400, having sold a total of 1.2 Bitcoin at current prices after having bought them some time ago for between $US300 and $US400. The main advantage he saw to pit trading was that one could avoid the exchange fees of the electronic sites.
“I like buying and selling in this fluid environment, giving cash [in person] I think works pretty well,” he said. “It just needs to generate a critical mass to get going.”
Bitcoin wasn’t the only currency being traded: Dogecoin, which now has the third greatest amount of trade volume of all cryptocurrencies, was also on offer:
One Dogecoin evangelist named Lewis brought his mining rig to the center. He explained that Dogecoin is the “backbone” of meme monetization and that, “All meme coins of the future are going to be pegged to doge.”
He also explained the popularity of Dogecoin by pointing to its fun, inviting vibe. Newbies are encouraged to ask dumb questions in a crowd that can be much less intimidating than the folks who are hardcore into Bitcoin (many of whom are quite ideological).
The majority of those in attendance were merely curious bystanders who’d heard enough about Bitcoin to want to know more. In artist and organiserKhorey Rice’s case, accepting payment in Bitcoin may be a way to drive more traffic to his website. Some like, Eric Green, a recent graduate computer science graduate from Rensselaer, were sceptical. “It’s a little hard to understand — the whole point of Bitcoin is that it’s electronic,” he said.
But as a computer science major, he said he still believed in Bitcoin itself.
Ultimately, the live trading is only going to be a minor (albeit enjoyable) aspect of the Bitcoin ecosystem. The real value here is giving people a place to congregate, swap ideas, party (there was free liquor) and just get stoked about the burgeoning Bitcoin community in New York.